During the seventeenth century, a great number of citizens in Salem, Massachusetts, complained of symptoms connected with some mental disorders.

However, medicine was not developed enough to provide medical explanations of the epidemic during that time. The main symptoms included “fits” (convulsions), spectral vision (hallucinations), mental “distraction” (psychosis), “pinching, pin pricking and bites” on the skin (clonus), “lethargy, and even death.” Due to the lack of medical knowledge, the physicians concluded that it was a kind of affliction that was caused by some evil power. Consequently, all people who suffered from the mentioned symptoms were accused of witchcraft and persecuted by the government. As a result, many innocent people were executed. Thus, it is important to analyze the main reasons for this process and the group of most affected people.

The first thing that should be mentioned is the fact that in the late seventeenth century, “witchcraft was a capital crime in the colonies, and whoever was to blame for it had to be ferreted out and made the stop.” The reason for that was that no one could stop the outbreak of the illness. As a result, it was considered to be the acts of Satan, and people who behaved strangely were hanged and killed immediately. Nevertheless, examining the records in world history, one may notice that there were some occasions of similar diseases in Europe. Evidence indicates that people suffered the same physical symptoms. Consequently, there is a connection between European society and the American one in this respect. In both parts of the world, the same illness emerged, and the ways of treatment were identical. That is why some acts of witch executions in America were influenced by European tradition.

Another issue to discuss is the sociocultural background that predominates in the process of witch accusations. In fact, sociologists admit that the reason for the witch execution in Salem is connected with the division of the city. Salem was divided into “Salem Town (a prosperous sector on the well-developed east side of the town) and Salem Village (a less-developed, very swampy and rocky area on the west side).” That is why relations between settlers of both parts were rather strained and they often accused each other of witchcraft. They did not even know each other, but still made the accusations. The social conflict between successful merchants and existing farmers engender the problem in the region. They were busy accusing each other rather than explaining the physical symptoms of the outbroken illness.

Actually, the problem of witchcraft is highly complex since it combines both social and psychological factors. That is why many psychologists thought that physical pathology was the main reason for the events in Salem. Linda Caporeal suggested that “ergot, a fungus that appears on rye crops, caused the hallucinogenic poisoning in Salem.” She was the first psychologist who connected the events in Salem with biological arguments. Basically, ergot is considered to be a fungus that contains some special substances that can prompt convulsions. That is why Caporeal suggested that that was the main reason for the convulsions attributed to witchcraft. Caporeal’s theory was criticized by Nicholas Spanos and Jack Gottlieb. They maintained that her assumption did not explain some facts, namely the reason why the families who ate food poisoned with ergot were not affected. Moreover, “epidemics of ergotism have appeared in the areas where there was a severe vitamin A deficiency in the diet.” Nevertheless, Salem citizens often ate milk products, as well as seafood, so they never suffered from the lack of vitamin A. Consequently, Caporeal’s theory was not proved, and ergot was not considered as the reason for problems in Salem. However, there appeared another explanation that totally replied to unanswered questions.

A new assumption was connected with the fact that the illness in the seventeenth century was the result of the unknown epidemic of encephalitis. In fact, scholars compared the afflictions reported in Salem and the incidents of encephalitis in the early twentieth century. In both cases, young women and children were afflicted. “The "pricking and pinching" that repeated so often in the court records in Salem can be explained by the way patients’ skin surfaces exhibited twitches – quick, short, fluttering sequences of contractions of muscle bundles.” All these symptoms reflected the fact that the government, as well as the church, did not pay attention to medical explanations of the disaster that occurred in Salem. Consequently, instead of providing necessary treatment for citizens, the government accused them of witchcraft. One may suggest that it was the government's strategy to keep track of life in Salem.

All in all, the Salem witch trials are considered to be a rather important episode in American history. Many scholars study such instances and try to find the appropriate reasons for their occurrence. Some of them think that the executions of witches were connected with women’s cooperation with Satan. Others suggest that some mental diseases were the main reasons for the executions. There are also other explanations concerning the problem of witchcraft in Salem. For example, Linda Caporeal proposed that ergot was the cause of convulsions in the citizens. However, her assumption was rejected by other scholars. The seventeenth-century society was highly religious, so any inappropriate act caused persecution. Consequently, a fair number of women and men were executed and killed.

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